Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Look at me, Witnesses, The Blue Angel

Comme une image (Look at me, directed by Agnès Jaoui): Rating 9.5/10

Director Agnès Jaoui knows how to make a beautiful movie. And she and co-star and co-writer, Jean-Pierre Bacri know how to write a realistic script. They did that in 2000’s The Taste of Others which is a movie I quite liked. In 2005, the two of them combined for this wonderful movie which won them best screenplay at the Cannes Festival. Yet again, Jaoui and Bacri show the complex relationships that exist between people which lead them to created complicated messes for themselves. The two of them know to how to integrate realistic everyday elements into their story. For example, there is a scene in which the wife (played by Jaoui herself) is sitting on a couch watching tv. Her husband shows up, is tired and tries to tell her his problems. She is feeling a bit cold so she takes a blanket and tries to get more comfortable. As the husband is busy sulking, she is busy trying to find the tv remote control which is buried somewhere beneath the blanket. That’s the scene, simple yet realistic.

Lolita (Marilou Berry) is preparing for a musical concert. As she continues to practice her vocals, she has to deal with the fact that her father, a famous writer (Étienne played by Bacri), does not pay enough attention to her. The father is busy with his life and is married to a much younger wife, Karine (Virginie Desarnauts, who sort of looks like Naomi Watts in parts). Then there is Sylvia (played by Jaoui) and Pierre (Laurent Grévill). Sylvia is a music teacher who is training Lolita. Pierre is a struggling writer who is hoping his third book will make it big. Sylvia is a huge fan of Étienne and when she finds out that Lolita is her daughter, her attitude changes. She is star-struck and agrees to spend more time with Lolita even though she often complained about Lolita to Pierre. As is the case with most French movies, you take a complicated bunch of characters and then throw them together in a French cottage outside the city and watch the sparks fly. There are a few other interesting characters thrown into the mix such as Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza) and Vincent (Grégoire Oestermann). A wonderful movie which makes for a pleasant afternoon watch!

Svjedoci (Witnesses, 2003 movie directed by Vinko Bresan): Rating 6/10

This Croatian movie made a name for itself at the European film festival circuit. It is told in Rashômon style. But despite the technique, the film is flat and never really seems to take off. Three young Croatian soldiers are planning to blow up their neighbours house. The neighbour was not expected to be home so the three are startled to find him present and one of them ends up shooting him. The three soldiers flee the incident and take a witness as a hostage. A police inspector and a crime reporter try to dig the truth up. This simple incident is told over and over from different angles, each time another layer of the story is added. But the problem is none of the additional information makes the movie interesting. There is nothing in this story which should really be hidden or presented in this manner. The movie clocks in slightly under 80 minutes and even that seems to be a bit long. Might have been more interesting as a compact 20 minute short film!

Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930 movie directed by Josef von Sternberg): Rating 8/10

This movie is considered a classic! More than the director, it seems that the actress Marlene Dietrich got more of a star billing after this movie. But seeing this 1930 movie in 2006 does not have the same effect. On top of that, the grainy VHS copy of this movie had poor subtitles (subtitles were missing in parts) and choppy sound. But I tried to overlook all that and tried to enjoy the movie as much as I could. That being said, it is an interesting character study. A strict professor (Prof. Immanuel Rath played by Emil Jannings) is tired of his students neglecting their studies for the alluring Lola (Dietrich), a dancer in the Blue Angel club. The students go watch her show after school and during the day, they pass her photos around in class. So Prof. Rath decides to go the club and give Lola hell. But he too is smitten by her charm. And he starts neglecting his job and daydreams about her. Lola decides to misuse the Prof. and agrees to marry him. The two of them leave their town and head for the road with the night club show troupe. But she threats him horribly and reduces him to nothing. On top of that, the professor is forced to play a clown in her traveling night shows. The professor withstands this for 5 years but when he is asked to be a clown in the Blue Angel club in front of his former colleagues and students, he can’t take it anymore. He hates his life and despises Lola. The fantasy has become a living nightmare.

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